Fixing Ivy

I wrote the first Ivy Russell novella, Cheaters and Chupacabras, back in the early 2010s. I self-published it and then ended up writing three sequels, The Timeless Man, The Odd Section of Town, and Firebugs and Other Insects. Instead of publishing those three individually, I just put all four Ivy Russell novellas together in a big omnibus and published them together. And like most of the things I write and then publish, I moved on to the next project and didn’t give it much more thought.

Until I did.

There’s a character in the novellas named Riley who’s a trans man. I tried to be as mindful as possible when writing this character, but as hard as I tried, some of the language and character bits just didn’t age well. They didn’t completely molder into unintentional transphobia, but they definitely wilted into failed ally intentions.

I’ve been debating for a while about whether or not to update those parts. Part of it is my own laziness, but the bigger part was the idea of leaving it as is as part of the bigger overarching display of how my writing in general has grown. That yes, even I make mistakes despite my good intentions of including the character.

In the end, my own discomfort with leaving it as it was knowing I could -and should- do better won out and I did some mild rewrites of those parts. To ensure that everything flowed together okay, I ended up rereading all four novellas in the course of a week.

Which challenged me in a different way. In addition to my laziness telling me it would be a lot of work to fix the Riley parts (it took less than an hour), I was worried that once I started looking, I’d be fixing all sorts of things. This wording, that little comma that no one else would notice, tweak that bit of description, etc. And though I did end up fixing some egregious mistakes that I missed during my initial proofing (it’s tough being a one-person show) and made another minor change to more accurately reflect the culture of a different character (a Hawaiian man nicknamed Sweet Pea), I left the rest of it alone, despite my overwhelming urge to fix it all.

Because even with the Riley issue (and to a smaller extent, the Sweet Pea issue) fixed, the novellas still illustrate how I’ve grown as a writer.

Even if some of that growth is kind of embarrassing and awkward and painful to read.

Murderville: So Long, Neighbor–Episode 2

Talking to the Neighbors

Lister McKinney’s house was something like his garage, organized chaos. It was easy to see that nothing had been disturbed or taken. Nothing had probably been moved in months.

The door from the garage led into the kitchen and Vince was greeted with a familiar sight: a pile of miscellaneous detritus on the kitchen table. His own looked quite a bit like this, only not piled so high. Where he might have a few months, this looked like years. Vince opted to do a walk-through of the house looking for any important papers that might lead him to a next-of-kin, knowing that he was probably going to end up sifting through that kitchen table in the end.

There was a lot of stuff everywhere, no rhyme or reason or filing system, but it seemed like anything Lister McKinney considered important was probably on the kitchen table. He couldn’t find it anywhere else.

Vince carefully sorted through the contents of the table, noting the bills, a few old past-due notices, and the junk mail that never made it to the garbage can. Under one messy pile, he found Mr. McKinney’s checkbook. A quick glance as his finances painted an interesting picture. First of all, the handwriting was incredibly neat, small, block-print, something Vince wasn’t expecting. Secondly, he lived mostly off of social security, the deposit noted consistently during the first week of every month. However, at some point during the middle of the month, there might be one or two other deposits, nothing overly large, never more than a few hundred dollars, and each deposit was noted with either “Otis” or “Virgil”. He set the checkbook aside.

A little more sifting and he dug up an old picture of three boys about ten years old. On the back was the year and the names of the boys. They were identified as the Wyliss boys, but none of them bore that name. Instead, the names Lister McKinney, Otis Gorski, and Virgil Clapp were listed in the pristine handwriting common to women back in the day when penmanship was a valued thing. In parenthesis under the names was the word “cousins”.

Putting together the pieces, it seemed likely to Vince that the Otis and Virgil in the checkbook were the same Otis and Virgil in the picture.

And once again he found himself in bit of a dilemma.

Because the name Otis Gorski was familiar to him.

With a sigh, Vince left the kitchen and went back into the garage. He’d ask Officer Jensen if he could borrow her squad’s computer.

He might know the name, but he didn’t know the address.

#

The neighborhood was pretty lively for a Sunday afternoon in late spring. People were probably out doing yard work, running errands, oblivious to the crime committed on their block. Or so they thought. Detective DeAndre DeMarte was confident that he was going to find a witness or two from the clump standing on the lawn opposite Lister McKinney’s house. No doubt one of them saw something; they just didn’t realize they saw it yet.

“Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen,” he said as he approached the group, which fell silent as he spoke. He had that way with people. “I’m Detective DeAndre DeMarte. I was hoping to ask you folks a few questions about what’s going on across the street.”

***

Whatever will the neighbors say? Become a patron for as little as $1 an episode and find out.

February Writing Projects

I spent a day or two in the month of January staring at the list of writing projects I have that are in various stages, from ideas to drafts to revisions to finished. The purpose of this is to touch base with all of the shit I have that needs to be worked on because I have a tendency to get both distracted by new ideas as well as hyper-focused on certain projects and either way, I end up forgetting that I have half-finished projects that need attention.

Once again I have to remind you to never do anything the way I do. I am terrible.

Anyway, as I glance at my own personal project hell, I’ve come up with a loose idea of what I’d like to work on during the year.

This month, I’m going to do what I hope to be a couple of little things.

First of all, I’m going to fix a couple of issues that have cropped up with the Ivy Russell novellas. While I love the stories, there’s something about a couple of them that hasn’t aged well. The character of Riley is transgender and even though I had the best of intentions when creating the character, certain aspects haven’t aged well and it’s been nagging at me for a while to fix them. Since they’re self-published, I have total control of fixing and uploading new manuscripts. And since they haven’t sold too many copies, I don’t have to worry about the change affecting too many people.

Second of all, I’ve been working on (Vampires) Made in America for years. I recently had an epiphany about a revision that needs to be made, so I’m going to work on that. The thing is, though, is that there is a possibility that I’ve already done this revision and what I really experienced is a flashback and not an epiphany. So, we’ll see! At any rate, I’ll be revisiting that manuscript yet again and hopefully, it will be for the last time.

But probably not.

However, we are hanging out in Murderville for the last time and the second episode of So Long, Neighbor goes live on February 9th. Not a patron? Now is the time to get in on the action. $1 an episode lets you read. $2 an episode you lets you read and you get a sweet bonus every other month, like the one going live on February 23rd.

Episode 20 of Book ’em, Danno just went live a few days ago and episode 22 should go live at the end of the month. I’m cruising through season 2 and have a blast doing it. Do check it out and then show some love. I shouldn’t be the only one having a good time, so subscribe and share and like and heart and telegraph. It’s all very much appreciated.

Book ’em, Danno–Episode 20

It’s all about a dangerous game in episode 13 of season 2 “The Joker’s Wild, Man, Wild”. And in episode 14, “Which Way Did They Go?” we’ve got a brilliant, but deadly heist and William Windom. It’s hard to do better than that.

Just a heads up–There is some mention of sexual assault in my discussion of “Which Way Did They Go?” but I do give a trigger warning and it’s maybe only a minute long. It may not seem like enough of a mention to bother warning people about, but I’d rather be safe than cause someone harm because they were blindsided. As someone who has super specific triggers, I know I can’t account for all of them, but sexual assault is a common one so I’m more than willing to give a heads up.

Listen in on Soundcloud and iTunes.

In conclusion, here is Steve looking so fashionable while arresting someone.

Murderville: So Long, Neighbor–Episode 1

A Dead Neighbor on Sunday

Spring thaw in Munsterville thawed more than just the ground, creeks, streams, and patches of Lake Munster. It thawed the population, too. After several months of snow, ice, and freezing temperatures, the citizens of Munsterville welcomed the first warmish, sunny day, emerging from their winter hibernation with no intention of returning until the end of autumn. No false spring giving way to winter temperatures could convince them to put on their heavy coats again.

Flip flops and shorts weren’t the only things that emerged in spring. So did the criminal activity. Committing and/or solving crimes is more difficult in a parka, so at the first hint of warm weather, the pace of both picked up, plateauing during the summer.

The Munsterville Police Department was known for their dedicated officers, particularly their detectives, as they were charged with solving some of the toughest cases in the city. Those cases usually involved a suspicious death. And to be honest, most deaths in Munsterville were suspicious. After all, it’s not called Murderville for nothing.

Detective DeAndre DeMarte walked into work every day with that thought on his mind. He took nothing for granted on his cases, investigating every aspect and every angle. Some cops thought it was overkill, but he had the record to back up his methods. He was the best detective in the whole precinct, and he didn’t get that by being the best looking (which he was) or the best dressed (ditto). He got that through hard work and because he never let a theory go unchecked.

DeMarte didn’t work with a regular partner. He didn’t really need to. He worked best alone. But sometimes he found himself partnered with the newer detectives when their regular partners were unavailable, either sick or on vacation or whatever. DeMarte didn’t take sick days (he had an incredible constitution) and he didn’t like to take vacations, but Chief Del Marco insisted. She said the city was tired of paying him out on both sick days and vacation, so she made him take his vacation days. And he did. He respected his Chief, even if he didn’t always agree with her.

When DeMarte worked with the newbie detectives, he did his best to impart his wisdom on them. Sure, their partners were probably fine showing them the ropes, but he was the best. Who couldn’t benefit from some knowledge bestowed upon them by the best detective in the city?

Detective Josh Carpenter was on vacation with his husband and kids, so Detective DeAndre DeMarte was paired up with Carpenter’s usual partner, Detective Vince Carthos. Carpenter was a competent enough of a detective, but even his best wasn’t as good as DeMarte’s average. And Carpenter wasn’t even at his best most of the time, especially in the last year. Carthos was practically starved for some decent guidance.

So far, though, DeMarte’s guidance had only be theoretical and offered up as advice; they hadn’t had a single death case that week for practical application and he only had a week left to educate the young detective. There was only so much one could learn doing follow-ups and filing.

“You see,” DeMarte went on, determined to cram as much learning as possible into the short time he had with Carthos, “it’s important to keep an open mind during your investigations. You can’t get tied into one theory. That’s how you get yourself in trouble. If you only focus on one possibility, you miss the evidence you need that leads you to the truth.”

Detective Vince Carthos sat at his desk and nodded. He was focused on reading the report in front of him, but DeMarte knew he was listening. He was too hard to ignore.

DeMarte sat on the corner of Carthos’s messy desk and looked down at him.

“You know, you might benefit from better organization,” he said, looking over the disarray, trying not to judge the young man too harshly.

Carthos looked up at him. “How’s that?”

The man would look forever young with that round cherub face. He looked a little soft, too, but DeMarte thought that might be deceptive. Anyone would look soft wearing a rumpled, slightly too-big suit. DeMarte preferred to look pressed and well-tailored, preferably in something expensive and with a hat. He felt suspects and witnesses alike responded better to that impression. Besides, he’d never been able to pull off anything off-the-rack. It all hung wrong on him. His body wasn’t made for such average clothing.

“Look at your desk, son,” DeMarte said, gesturing to it. “It’s a mess. Do you even know what you have on it?”

“Yeah. Most of it.”

DeMarte clucked his tongue and shook his head.

“See, that’s not good enough. You need to know what every scrap of paper is. You have to keep all of that in your head and at your fingertips. Valuable seconds are wasted if you’re looking for something and you can’t tell one case from another, one lead from another. When you’re working on multiple cases, organization is the key.”

“Carpenter always tells me there’s no real right way,” Carthos said. “Though he did tell me I needed to keep my notebook in better order. And I agreed with him on that. I can get a little sloppy there. But I know the system of my desk.”

DeMarte looked at the detritus covering the used wooden surface. He shook his head in disbelief. There was no way this was a system or any way to be a detective. It pained him to think that this detective was lost before he had a chance to save him. But DeMarte wasn’t one to quit, not even when it all seemed lost. He’d still put in his best effort with Carthos. It was possible that he might be able to salvage something out of the man and make him into at least a competent detective.

“Detective Carpenter is a decent detective. Very…knowledgeable,” DeMarte said. “He must have told you the importance of organization. There’s no way he could let something like this fly.”

“It gives him anxiety to look at my desk sometimes, yeah,” Carthos said with a grin. “But I can always find what he needs, so he doesn’t say too much about it. Besides, his desk can get just as unruly when we’re busy.” Carthos quickly added, “But he can always find what he needs, too. I think it’s important that the system work for the person. Not everyone can handle being so neat.”

“And what do you call this system?” DeMarte asked, wrinkling his nose.

Carthos surveyed his desk.

“It doesn’t have a name,” he said. “I’m not going to patent it.”

DeMarte laughed. “For the best, I think. You’d never be able to sell it.”

Carthos gave a strained smiled. One thing DeMarte had noticed about him was that he didn’t have the keenest sense of humor. Which was a shame. Carpenter could be quite a funny guy. He must have felt suffocated working with Carthos all the time.

“You know, you should really come over and check out my desk,” DeMarte said. They’d gone over a lot in the short time they’d been together. It’s not like DeMarte had run out of things to teach Carthos, but there was something demoralizing about needing to go over something as simple as how to properly keep a desk. “Not only do I have the patented ‘DeMarte System’, but it’s also so good that anyone can work it. Because you can’t overlook the importance of other people being able to find what they need on your desk. When someone is covering for you and needs to follow up on one of your cases-”

“DeMarte!”

DeMarte turned at the sound of his name and saw a uniform approaching at a hustle. He had a slip of paper in his hand.

“That’s Detective to you, Officer,” he said as he stood up, straightening his jacket.

“Sorry, sir,” the uniform said, not sounding very sorry. He handed the slip of paper to DeMarte. “Call from dispatch. Body in a garage over on Hollyhock Road. Lieutenant told me to give it to you.”

“Thank you, Officer,” DeMarte said, dismissing him. He looked at the slip of paper. Scribbled on it were some quick details: male, sixties, head wound, and the address. “Let’s go, Carthos.”

Detective DeMarte led his protégé out of the station and to his unmarked car, parked right up front. He had his game face on, his game attitude in place. It was all relaxed, easy-going DeMarte before; now he was serious.

Hollyhock Road had become notorious in the detectives’ room. The Winchester Harmon case the year before had earned them all (even DeMarte, much to his chagrin) a sound tongue lashing from Chief Del Marco about their credibility and their responsibility to the public and being made fools of because they weren’t observant enough or smart enough. She chewed out all of the detectives, but it had been Carpenter’s case. He was the one who botched it, looking at a suicide (an obvious suicide, if anyone asked DeMarte) like a homicide and wasting resources to investigate it like one. There was being thorough, and then there was being oblivious, and in the Winchester Harmon case, Carpenter had definitely been the latter. To his credit, Carpenter did solve a challenging suspicious death a few months later (a homicide staged to look like a suicide), but the damage to his reputation had already been done. DeMarte valued his own reputation more than Carpenter valued his, it seemed. And the example he set for his inexperienced partner during that case was pitiful. No wonder Chief Del Marco pulled Carthos to work on other cases whenever she got the chance. Trying to save the poor guy from further corruption.

He glanced over at Carthos as they pulled out of the police lot.

The Winchester Harmon case had been a disaster for the young detective. This one would be different.

Detective DeAndre DeMarte wouldn’t be fooled.

***

It’s the last season of Murderville and we’re going back to where it all began. Become a patron for as little as $1 an episode and see how the whole thing wraps up.

Turning 41

Okay, so if you don’t count the pandemic and the political unrest, 40 actually wasn’t too bad. I’m sort of sad that it’s over since I really didn’t get to do much with it, though I did make some small personal progresses.

I’d like to do more of that for 41.

In some spiritual beliefs this is called stepping into your power. That’s what I want to do. Or do more of that, anyway. Cross off more things on the Big To Do List and give a few less fucks.

Look, if someone is going to continue to drop the ball at their job and keep letting me have birthdays, then I’m going to continue to find things to do to fill the time. And the older I get, the more I want to do other stuff, the stuff I didn’t think I could do when I was younger.

I’m feeling 41 is going to be a time for new things. I want to try new things, do new things. I realize that might be somewhat limited due to circumstances, but I’m sure I can work something out. It might be nothing more than learning to make a new recipe or learning a new craft, but it will be something shiny.

I think I’m also going to take some time during 41 to plan for 42. I never do anything big for my birthday. So, if everyone cools out for a minute and we get the pandemic under control, I’d like to take a trip for 42.

But, first 41.

Cheers to that.

Everything Is Terrible

Between the pandemic, the politicalization of the pandemic, a corrupt and cruel government that continues to fail the people -Hell, there was a failed coup attempt just this past week which will probably see no punishments and will be normalized- and the constant daily stresses of it all, it’s easy to ask “How do you create in a time like this?”

Counterpoint: How do you do ANYTHING during a time like this?

There is this foolish notion that circumstances like this somehow lead to great and productive creativity. That art is like a diamond and it’s brilliance can only be created through intense pressures. Well, I’m no artist and I don’t create anything that would qualify as art, but let me tell you, this is wrong, especially for a hack like myself.

It’s no secret that I was struggling before all of this shit came crashing down on our heads. My productivity was down, hampered by self-doubt, depression, and stress. I actually felt, though, at the beginning of 2020 that I might be coming out of that. I thought what I needed was a shift in direction to get my productivity jump started.

And then came the ‘rona.

This past year has just been miserable. Writing has been relegated to an afterthought for the most part. I had several projects planned for 2020. I always plan more than I know I can do in a given year just because it gives me a big picture view of what I need to do and helps me pick my priorities. I did two of the writing projects on the list (I did finish Book ’em, Danno Season 1, but that isn’t really a writing project) and one of those was NaNo. That’s it. For most of the year, I didn’t even have the energy to think about writing. Hell, I couldn’t even blog on a weekly basis like before.

And that really bums me out.

I feel like a failure on a daily basis. Not just with the writing, but really, with everything. And that feeling doesn’t contribute to a lot of productivity in any area of my life. There’s a list of things that I’m going to spend my vacation week doing because I just haven’t had the energy to get them done. They aren’t difficult things. Maybe a little time consuming, but nothing that requires a lot of effort. And yet, I don’t feel like I have the energy to do any of it.

I’m just scraping by, day to day, bit by bit. It’s overwhelming, it’s too much. I’m constantly exhausted. I cherish the days that feel almost normal, that I feel almost normal. I try to be as productive as possible then because I know that it won’t last. It’s a drag.

I know that I’m not the only one that feels like this. It’s a collective trauma that we’re dealing with here. We’re all tired, pushed to the brink, doing our best to get through.

I guess that’s what this post is.

Acknowledging that we’re all doing our best while everything is terrible.

January Writing Projects

So, it’s no secret that 2020 was kind of less than and let’s just say that for me, it went out with a whimper. I know I was supposed to work on a couple of short stories, one with a deadline for the end of December. Neither of those stories came to fruition. It turns out that December ended up being more stressful than anticipated and that ruins my creativity and motivation. Who knew?

I did. But I never listen to me.

This month I plan on doing an inventory of my writing projects. I’ve always got several different things going and they’re all in different stages of completion. I need to get a handle on what I’m doing because I need 2021 to be the year that I get some things done.

Yeah, I know. I learned nothing from 2020.

But hey, there is one thing we can all look forward to this year and that’s the final season of Murderville. The first episode of So Long, Neighbor goes live on January 12th. Not a patron? Join now. It’s $1 an episode to read. $2 an episode lets you read and gets you a sweet bonus every other month. Treat yourself to Murderville‘s send off.

Episode 20 of Book ’em, Danno should go live at the end of the month, but in the meantime you can listen to Episode 19, which went live on Christmas. Ho ho ho. So, give a listen and then share this present with everyone you know and a few people you don’t know. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Wrapping up 2020

I normally don’t do posts like this, but given the nature of 2020, I felt that it was warranted. After all, I haven’t really posted about much beyond writing projects, Book ’em Danno, and Murderville.

So, what about 2020?

Well, first of all it should be noted that I achieved all but one of my half-assed resolutions (which I won’t be making for 2021; if 2020 taught me anything, not getting dead and having a good time is enough of a challenge). Not getting dead and having a good time is difficult during a pandemic, but I managed. I also did a better job of reading consistently by using a habit tracker and I did better with the whole self-care thing. I did not clean out my sewing drawer. Honestly, I don’t even want to think about it.

There’s a lot of things I don’t want to think about. 2020 was exhausting and I’m grateful for the things I was able to accomplish.

I managed to cross off two items from my Big To Do List. The Big To Do List is a short list of things that are in some fashion daunting for me to do, either they’re cost prohibitive (because I am usually money-less) or time consuming/labor intensive or in some cases, virtually impossible. But even before this year went weird, I’d decided that I was going to buy new glasses (my other pair is only 13 years old) and get the tattoo cover-up I’ve been thinking about for years. The pandemic added another degree of difficulty, but I can’t deny that I feel pretty proud of myself getting them done.

I also finally went to the doctor about my persistent knee pain. Turns out I have severe tendonitis in both knees and ended up doing physical therapy for six weeks. It’s better, but I’m still not back to normal yet.

This doctor’s visit also informed me that I’d lost the battle with my blood pressure and needed to be put on meds for it. Looks like I can’t handle the stress of a pandemic too well. Who knew?

In other disappointing news, my writing really suffered this year. It took four months for me to revise The Support Group Meets on Wednesday and two months to write the novella Early Snow. Along with two entries for a 100 word contest and NaNo, that’s all she wrote. Literally. It’s a very good thing that I had Murderville done a couple of years ago. This soul sucking year just exacerbated the writing malaise that’s been plaguing me the last couple of years.

On the other hand, I kept up with Book ’em, Danno. When I first started it, I wasn’t sure I’d make it through the first season. Now I’m half-way through the second. The last couple of months have been a bit of a struggle, but I’ve been getting it done and it’s been getting a decent number of plays. That’s always encouraging.

So, yeah. 2020 has been a thing on all sorts of levels. Personally, I managed a few victories to prevent it from being a total loss.

And as foolhardy as it sounds, I’m going to try to build on that for 2021.

Book ’em Danno–Episode 19

Just about half-way through season 2 with episode 11, “Leopard on the Rock”, and episode 12, “The Devil and Mr. Frog”. Five-O has their hands full. First they have to babysit the uninvited, petty tyrant leader of an unnamed country who is at the center of multiple plots. Then they have to track down a kidnapper in possession of the ransom money and the father who paid it thinks getting the money back is more important than getting justice for his son.

There’s just a whole lot of terrible and questionable people ’round here.

Thank goodness the Five-O guys are on the up and up.

Most of the time.

Listen on Soundcloud and iTunes

Anyway, here’s Steve undercover for a hot minute.